Parents worry school progress could be undone by budget cuts

Updated September 11, 2017 - 11:55 am

Red Rock Elementary School was just starting to get on track, according to parent Casey Gable.

The school put together its own parent-teacher organization last year, of which Gable is a member. This year, Red Rock is received a Department of Agriculture grant to supply fruits and vegetables as snacks during class. This month, the city of Las Vegas is helping Red Rock build a garden as a part of its Reinvent Schools program.

But the recent announcement of Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky’s retirement, effective in June, and the district’s ever-growing budget shortfall — which may require $70 to $80 million in cuts — might threaten the changes the school has been making. That has Gable, the mother of a first-grade student, worried.

“There’s always concerns. We want our kids to have the best education they can have and to have all of the tools that they need to be able to succeed and learn,” she said. “Everything is a fear when you’re a parent. It just is. Budget cuts and all that, it’s just more to be afraid of.”

Gable has been the head of Red Rock ’s school organization team, or SOT, for the past year. Before school Sept. 5, she led a meeting of parents, teachers and staff in principal Stephanie Wong’s office.

“I know there’s a lot of talk on the news obviously about budget cuts and all that. It will affect us,” Wong said. “I don’t know about teachers — they keep saying they’re not touching teachers — but I don’t see how they can’t touch teachers when we’re talking $60 to $80 million.”

In a letter to district employees on Sept. 6, Skorkowsky addressed the temporary hiring freeze for all nonessential positions.

“Teachers are essential employees and we believe the temporary hiring freeze will ensure that every teacher will have a position with the District, even after our budget reductions and a surplus process,” Skorkowsky wrote. “We do not plan to do a reduction in force (RIF) of our teachers, especially given the problems we have experienced recruiting teachers in recent years.”

Still, administrators and SOTs are not convinced and are preparing for the worst. At the Red Rock SOT meeting, there was a discussion about saving positions by using funding from Senate Bill 178. Approved by the Legislature last session, SB 178 allocates $1,200 per student for underperforming children and English language learners who don’t already receive Zoom or Victory funding from the state.

Red Rock received $408,000 from the state, which cannot be touched by cuts at the district level. At previous meetings, the SOT decided on how that money would be allocated. This year it will pay for a community school coordinator salary ($57,900) to implement the Reinvent program and two classroom para-professionals — specialists who work with underperforming students, ($82,458 each) — as well as new Chromebooks and a literacy computer program.

But Wong and the SOT already are planning how to save critical school services with the SB 178 money. Through the school’s primary budget, several teachers participate in a “prep period buyout.” Teachers are guaranteed 250 minutes of prep time per week ( usually 50 minutes per day). But schools sometimes “buy back” that period, allowing a teacher to earn extra pay by working in another teacher’s classroom to assist with small-group work.

Jon Guerrero, a second-grade teacher at Red Rock, said that having another teacher come in and assist makes a huge difference. Most of his students are English language learners, and having an extra teacher allows his students more practice with language to get extra phonics, vocabulary and phonemic awareness.

The team is plans on putting aside money from extra state-allocated funds to be able to pay for those buyouts, instead of from the regular budget.

“If we’re not able to fund other things, then we need to make sure that what we’re funding here (with SB 178) is really going to support the school,” Wong told the team.

Gable lamented that it seemed like “everything was up in the air.”

Wong said she still has no idea how much she’ll have to cut from her budget or what she will have to cut.

“As far as I know everything is kind of an option,” Wong said. “If you want to eliminate an administrator position, teaching positions, eliminate from our supply budget … I just don’t know.

The school has about $27,000 of its annual $90,000 supply budget left, said secretary Robyn Scheib. That money pays for copy machines, ink, paper and pencils, as well as busing for field trips. And that $27,000 has to last through May.

Contact Madelyn Reese at mreese@viewnews.com or 702-383-0497. Follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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